Survivor Season One: The Generation Gap

By David Mumpower

July 14, 2005

Does no one else thinks it's a bad idea to arm him with a machete?

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Last time on Survivor was, well, the first time on Survivor. Sixteen virgin contestants were stranded on a desert island in what must seem at first blush to be some sort of elaborate ritual sacrifice. After all, the players on both tribes are attempting to secure a wooden tiki idol. Winners are rewarded with the magic of fire. There is some sort of feared village voodoo doctor who goes by the name of Jeff Probst. I would go so far as to wager those cameras have National Geographic logos imprinted on them. But since I don't care a bit whether any of these people live or die, I am fine with it if a bunch of folks are about to be thrown into a volcano. It should make for quality television.

This is day four on the island, and the not-natives are restless. A realization has been made about what each player has signed up for, and they are beginning to deduce that it ain't food. Particularly troublesome is the way the cameramen keep hinting that if the contestants are hungry, they should eat rats. Fear of the plague has waned over the centuries, but all of these folks have a vague recollection that it's not a fun way to die. As such, they are holding out hope that Dominos will deliver sometime soon. Also, some of the brighter participants suspect that living by the ocean might offer a fringe of benefit of fish. They think they saw it in a musical number from The Little Mermaid. As things stand, though, the catch of the day is Bubonic Plague.

Stacey, a youthful attorney from the Tagi tribe summarizes the issue thusly. "I've had some days where I've only had some fruit but there's no prospect of any food here. It's worse." Her point seems to be that anorexia is a perfectly acceptable way to live, but only if she is choosing to refuse her body its daily sustenance. Some game show keeping her away from the buffet is not acceptable. Stacey's Voted off the Island Doomsday Clock is immediately reduced by 15 days. By my current calculations, she will break the arch of time and be retroactively voted off last Thursday...and not a moment too soon. This girl is poison.

The camera takes a moment to show the ill-fated rats. It's not enough that these poor creatures are waiting to be devoured. They must also suffer the indignity of being caged before becoming dead rats walking. Have these Survivors no shame? Do they not know the health benefits of eating free-range rats?

A few of the Tagi members catch a crab and attempt to use it as bait. They row a raft out to a white marker (of Styrofoam apparently...what's the budget for this show anyway?). There, they sit around and wait for the fish to bite. This laconic moment affords me the opportunity to point out that fishing shows are cable television's worst invention. Herein lays the proof. Nothing happens then they swim back. It's like arbitrarily deciding to walk from one end of the beach to the other every couple of hours but with the stink of failure thrown in for good measure. On the plus side, they still have the rats, or as I like to call them, the other other white meat.

The lull in the action affords the editing crew an opportunity to slowly unveil the game's strategy. Richard is shown manipulating Stacey, the woman whom he targeted at the previous night's tribal council. She is certain Rudy was the rat bastard (sorry) who voted against her. This causes her to spend several minutes explaining to the camera why she doesn't like him. Stacey mentions his age, his bossy nature, his eating habits and the like. She even complains about his treatment of cutlery. How dare he use the knives without first gaining expressed written consent on triplicate forms!

If you don't recognize the type yet, Stacey is a complainer. Worse yet, she is one of those people who gets gut feelings about people and judges them accordingly. If the person is randomly deemed lacking, that is not good enough. So, Stacey talks and talks and talks about all the mannerisms of her newly sworn enemy until such a time as she has zoned in on exactly what it is that bothers her about the person, real or imagined. At this juncture, said behavior becomes the most unforgivable sort and must be eradicated immediately in order to protect the sanctity of the righteous. If you have ever read an Internet message board, you know the type.

Rudy is a less complicated man. He summarizes his opinion of Stacey by saying they would not be friends on the outside. He does not start shouting Attica! Attica! but the wording certainly defines the Tagi tribe as a prison colony. Hmm, I guess Puala Tiga is the new Australia. Stacey might become marginally less annoying if there is some Caged Heat to come.

Pagong avoided going to Tribal Council the prior evening, but that does not indicate a better camp situation than Tagi. The problem is Grandpa B.B. The old man has apparently chosen to come on the show in order to die of heat stroke on national television. He is shown building shelter, chopping bamboo, and tying vines. He seems to be outworking the rest of the group combined, and the point is not lost on him. B.B. has decided that he is the general of this little company, and he is not afraid to bark out orders to his troops. Several of his targets are shown snarling at the man over his rude behavior and generally bossy nature.

B.B. seems clueless about this. He's old and set in his ways and convinced he knows better than everyone else. Can't imagine why they hate him. It's like spending Sunday eating decades-old hard candy at Granny's while she points out all your personality flaws and why your parents never should have married. B.B. even blithely reveals the pecking order of worker bees at Pagong. "The biggest workers are probably Gretchen, Craig and...I can't think of the lady's name in the pink swimming suit but she works her heart out." The fact that there isn't anyone named Craig on the island does not seem to deter him. Maybe he's got an island Harvey.

A young woman named Colleen steps up at this point and reveals she is not in the habit of speaking unkindly of her elders. As she describes it, the combative despot is a charming man and she even suggests that a B.B. action figure would be a huge hit this holiday season. Attention, Survivors. Colleen's soft underbelly has been revealed. Shiv until your heart's content.

Back at Tagi, a humorous segment unfolds. Richard confidently speaks of the fact that Rudy would not like him if it were known that he is gay. During a dinner discussion, Dirk and Sean quiz the corporate trainer on his sexuality. Confident that Rudy is out of earshot, Richard answers their queries. Richard sees Rudy as his main ally in the game, so he does not want the Navy Seal to eavesdrop. Some editor has fun with this as he immediately cuts to Rudy discussing Richard's homosexuality. The old man indicates that he had avoided Richard the prior night just to guarantee that the "queer" didn't have the opportunity to come out to him. Rudy's candidacy for mayor of San Francisco just took a hit.

"The homosexual, he's one of the nicest guys I've ever met and he's good at what he does, you know. He's got leadership ability and if these people here would listen to him, he would take them a long way. But anyway, me and Richard got to be pretty good friends. Not in a homosexual way, that's for sure." -- Rudy

The above sounds like a deleted Melvin Udall speech from As Good As It Gets. No one could ever master the back-handed compliment like a misanthrope can.

At Pagong, seasick Ramona is still shell-shocked. She has trouble keeping food down, the humidity is kicking her ass and B.B. torments her in a way that would make Nelson Muntz proud. As Gretchen summarizes, Grandpa does not respect anyone who fails to work as hard as he asks. Since Ramona is sick and he's an intolerant man, the two show signs of despising one another. While Ramona throws up, B.B. slags her for her laziness. To his mind, she shouldn't eat or drink until she is physically able to contribute to the tribe's growth. The logic of her getting stronger through starvation and dehydration escapes me.

Hey, we've got our first reality show love connection. Greg, the guy we think is Craig, likes to go off on romantic jungle walks with Colleen. The two are college-aged and having the adventure of a lifetime. There is a distinctly romantic vibe to it, but the camera crew fails to capture any juicy PG-13 embraces. It is clear that Survivor's producers don't understand how to bag great ratings.

Speaking of sex, a group of strangers can't be alone on a deserted island without talking about dirty stuff. Greg poses the question, "If your lovemaking were a food, what sort of food would it be and why?" So, if you are scoring at home, Greg is the first Survivor contestant to go stark raving mad. You would think that the person getting a girlfriend would be in better mental shape than say Ramona aka Vomit Girl. Ah well, live and learn.

There is one other developing rift between B.B. and hunky young Joel. The old man sounds like a frustrated head coach who has been disappointed by the results of his #1 draft pick. "He reminds me of a guy that when you buy him for what he's worth and sell him for what he thinks he is worth, you make a million dollars." For his part, Joel thinks the old man is several steps beyond senile and a jackass to boot. Suddenly, the basis for the episode's title of The Generation Gap becomes clear.

B.B. expects people to listen to him because he knows from whence he speaks. Joel and Ramona don't know the guy and have come to see him as considerably less reasonable than Stalin. It's a classic example of the arrogance of youth squared off against the wisdom and impatience of old age. This is easily the most fascinating sociological aspect of Survivor thus far.

General Hospital wannabe Sean raises the ire of his tribemates through his lack of fishing prowess. The young doctor builds what he describes as a super-pole designed to rake in fish by the barrel. His initiative is met with the expected behavior by the others. Had he caught a lot of trout, he would be hailed as a conquering hero. When he returns with nothing, white trash hall-of-famer Sue derides him for wasting time in a vein attempt. If you are interested in buying Sean's invention, the super-pole, check out the infomercial at 3 a.m. on F/X.

B.B. takes a quiet moment of introspection to ponder his situation. After a few seconds, he comes to realize that he has not alienated each and every member of the tribe. To wit, he takes athlete/coach Gervase to task for his slacking. The effervescent young man is his usual upbeat self about it. He simply smiles widely and denies the accusation. Then, he says that the heat is getting to the old man...and he is probably right.

"First of all, this is not a democracy." This is a rather telling statement about why B.B. is doomed to fail in this contest. He's a ridiculously hard worker, but his diplomacy skills somehow throw under Dubya. I half-expect him to threaten to nuke the lot of them if they don't get that shelter finished and have dinner on the stove by twilight. B.B.'s wife must be an impossibly patient woman.

That strange Probst fellow shows up to say that it is time for the show's second immunity challenge. In this event, the two tribes will square off in an attempt to avoid voting a member off. In Pagong's case, avoid might be too strong a word. You get the feeling they are already considering tying B.B. to a raft and setting him adrift on the ocean. Surprisingly, B.B. has similar thoughts. He questions Gretchen about the idea of them losing in order to allow him to be voted off. Gervase and Ramona, the two people he has derided as weak (well, two of the five people...six if we don't count the fictional Craig), are irate. They see this as what it is, quitter talk. B.B. is no longer practicing what he preaches.

The challenge is revolting. The starving cast members are given "puton" aka beetle larvae in order to slake their hunger. The crawling bugs are giant bags of mucus as near as I can tell. Survivors are told that the first member who fails to eat a bug loses immunity for his tribe. Sadly, this is a challenge better designed for children than adults. The thought that they might eat these things gives me the heebie jeebies. I put my hands over my eyes then peek a bit.

Gervaise struggles with his assignment. He is given until the count of five to eat. At the last possible instant, he chokes down a mucous bag. Congratulations, I guess. Several other members have no problem completing the task. In fact, everyone wolfs down beetle babies. At this point, the tribe members are asked to choose the most squeamish contestant on the opposing tribe. These two players will participate in sudden death competition. Gervase is the obvious choice for Pagong while Stacey is picked from Tagi. Each of them is asked to swallow two undulating bugs and show that they have finished their tasty (?) treat. Stacey smokes Gervase, throwing down a pair of larvae in the blink of an eye. Pagong will head to Tribal Council.

After the loss, Ramona comes to terms with the Tribal Council process. She defines the ordeal as "Judgment Day on Earth". Okay, that's enough hyperbole for one episode. The vote itself seems to be a foregone conclusion. Now that B.B. has finished building the shelter, he has little to offer the tribe other than animosity. That Probst guy offers a ridiculously overblown description of the state of the tribe. Why? I just don't know. It's a bad idea and one I boldly predict they quickly dismiss. Survivor works better when it isn't theatrical.

The tribal council discussions center upon the trivialities of island life. Frankly, this one is much less exciting than the last one. The element of surprise greatly enhanced the initial vote. Since this one is a mortal lock, it's just a few statements of the obvious followed by a bunch of votes against B.B. Greg likes the guy, so I expect that he will vote for Ramona. B.B. also votes for Ramona, which is a bit surprising to me. He seemed to dislike Joel more, but I guess Ramona's illness really struck in his craw. That makes the final vote a closer than needed 6-2 for B.B., the first member of Pagong eliminated from the show. He would have got away with it, too, if it hadn't been for all those lousy kids.



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